Today it is the most powerful single armed faction in Somalia, controlling more territory than any other group.In many areas, al-Shabaab rule has brought relative peace and order that contrasts dramatically with the chaos in Mogadishu.Meanwhile, in Mogadishu, mortars fired by al-Shabaab and African Union troops deployed to protect the internationally-backed TFG continue to kill civilians and ravage the city.All sides have violated the laws of war by conducting indiscriminate attacks and other abuses.Often AMISOM or TFG forces respond in kind, launching indiscriminate mortar strikes on the neighborhoods from which opposition fighters had fired and then fled—leaving only civilians to face the devastation that ensues.Human Rights Watch interviewed people who saw their entire families blown to pieces by mortar shells lobbed indiscriminately at their homes.One 14-year-old boy lost his parents and four brothers to one of these attacks.“I saw pieces of their hands and legs near the part of the house that we used for resting,” he said.
“I used to be able to walk and work freely,” one woman said.
The international media has focused on al-Shabaab’s suicide attacks, public beheadings, stoning of women accused of adultery, and amputations of convicted thieves.
Less attention has been given to the grinding repression that characterizes daily life in communities controlled by al-Shabaab, where many local administrations have sought to implement harsh and intolerant measures in the name of Sharia.
Both the inhabitants of the shattered capital and those living in more peaceful areas have endured devastating patterns of abuse.
In much of the south, which is largely controlled by the armed Islamist group al-Shabaab, the population is subject to targeted killings and assaults, repressive forms of social control, and brutal punishments under its draconian interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
Others spoke of being jailed or flogged for failing to pray at proscribed times or of patrols smashing cell phones that contained western music.